Echo Hole

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“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 
– Eleanor Roosevelt

This was one of those spur of the moment days. There was no plan in place to do anything. All Bryan and I knew was that we wanted to climb. The weather looked clear and we decided to head back down to the river where we were three days earlier.

We spent the mid-afternoon prepping. Hot our dry bags full of climbing shoes, chalk bags, apples, water, dry towels, extra footwear, clothing and all other essentials. We were headed to a place called Echo Hole, where a friend of Bryans had ice climbed once. He had never been and we had both decided to try it out, but it wouldn’t be necessarily easy to get there.

As Bryan experienced, about 8 weeks prior to the day in Zanzibar, I was not a good swimmer. Our diving instructor had asked us to do a 200 meter swim near the shore. Needless to say that my attempt was pathetic, but it passed and it was good enough to get my PADI Open Water Certificate. I knew I could swim to save my life but when it came to saving anyone else’s or anything technical. I just didn’t have what it took. Maybe it came down to the fact that I was slightly afraid of water. It was a powerful element. An element that nearly claimed the lives of my Japanese family in the tsunami. The element that nearly drowned my brother one summer out at camp. It was also my worst event in the triathlon I had participated in when I was 10. I had failed the same aqua class four times, after the last attempt, I decided to quit it altogether. I just couldn’t get the right technique while doing the front stroke for the bloody life of me. Maybe it was time I faced it, tried a little harder. Conquer it.

As we arrived at the river, I noticed straight away that the water levels had not gone down. The current was not strong but still foreign to me. Bryan took all the gear and the dry bags, said it would be better for me not have any. He plunged into the river and got swept 30 meters downstream. He did it with such poise, looked like  a professional. He made it look easy. I thought he might be slightly mad. He loved the thrill. As soon as he was clear to the other side I took one big breath and with that lifted my feet from the rock and started swimming. Kicking and paddling with all my might. Well, after about, 20 seconds, I was on land. Solid once more. I felt powerful, that one little bit stronger.

We dropped our life jackets in the bush and walked. We walked about two kilometres to the “Hole.” There was a fence protecting one from getting too close to the cliff. It couldn’t stop us, just like the water. Across the river were white rocked formations, sand bank and beach. This place looked like a lagoon. It was a hidden gem. It was a paradise and it was all ours.  I dropped my head straight down to the water below the cliff. The cliff was sheer, made of basalt rock. Negative slanting. I hadn’t climbed in months and I was never really good to begin with. Yet, I was never really good at swimming and swam a current. I was a wild woman. I could do this. I would be brave. I would try and I was excited.

We started to do some bouldering with the water below. I felt comforted by this fact. My fall, no matter from how high, would be cushioned. I picked a route and went for it. Bryan moved cautiously behind my trail. Observing the rock very diligently , making sure that every hand pocket was secure, that his foot holds were stable and that his mind was clear and focused. I moved along, but came to a problem I just couldn’t solve. I must have been hanging there for about five minutes. I was so puzzled. I was unable to find a hold, I would grab, slip, repeat, grab, slip, repeat…None of the holds met the criteria I was looking for and my lack of technical skill and body strength didn’t help. My forearms were pumping. Building muscle to fast for my skin to stretch. I turned around and looked down at the water. I had to jump. I was out of options, officially. Another deep breath I took, a second for the day. I pushed off from the wall, did a miniature belly flop and plunged into the water with less grace than anticipated.

 It was cold yet refreshing on my burning heads. This was the first time I have ever done that. I had both a minor fear of heights and water. I had conquered them, and at the exact same time. I felt on top of it. So alive. I quickly swam to a part of the wall I knew I would be able to climb and scrambled for the top of the cliff. I looked down at the water again. Couldn’t have been higher than five meters. Small to some, but I felt like I just achieved something big…took a huge leap. After about another thirty minutes of climbing in Echo Hole, it started to rain. Bryan’s shoes were soaked from his dip in the water, as were mine. The rock was too slippery to grip. It was time to call it a day.

One more thing needed to be done, I needed to swim back across that damn river. One last time. Bryan went first, this time, I did not wait for him to get to shore before I surrendered my body to the river. I kicked, paddled, kicked and paddled. The other shore was closer than I thought and far more shallow. I was safe once more. I was unscratched from the day. I conquered my fears during the day and I felt unstoppable at the end of the day.

When we got home, Bryan and I told the family about the events of the day. His Mum spoke up” Aren’t there fresh water crocodiles in that lake?”

Mandy replied with “Yes, there are”

I wondered as to why no one had said something  to me before. I took a risk, and a big one at that. I laughed with a crooked grin on my face. Knowing full well that could have been my demise. For some reason though, I craved the risk and still want to go back, after all I was a wild woman.

Song of the day: Crazy by Seal

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